So you’d like to try art modeling, eh? I think that’s great. No, seriously, I do. Years ago I realized that as an actor I wasn’t really competing with other actors, so much as competing with myself, and this is even more true when it comes to art modeling. Art schools and studios like to have as many different models and body types as they can, they all complain in particular that there aren’t enough good male models, so there just isn’t any reason to feel competitive. Even if you’re another scrawny white guy in his forties, the differences between us are still likely to stand out more than the similarities. So dive on in, the more the merrier.
That said, however, let’s discuss your motivations, 'kay? Now, I could spend some time dispelling any illusions you have about this being a quick, easy job to break into or make money at, but let's be honest, shall we? There's really only one reason you're intrigued by this job, isn't there. You're dying to find out what it feels like to be naked in a room full of strangers. You’re wondering if it will be scary. You’re wondering if it will be freeing. You’re wondering, if maybe, just maybe it will be charged with the teeniest bit of erotic tension.
Well now, yes, you will learn what it feels like to be naked in front of strangers. I can’t tell you how you’ll react; maybe it will be scary, maybe it will be freeing, maybe you’ll learn all sorts of wonderful, fascinating things about your body image and your psyche and your place in a Judeo-Christian body-hating culture. Will you find it erotic? If exhibitionism alone does it for you, then yes, you might. If it matters who is looking at you, I can say that the vast majority of the time your audience will either be hip, retired grandmothers or pierced, sullen, purple-haired undergraduates. If either of those categories does it for you, then you’re in luck, but even so you’ll want to know one important fact:
They won’t care in the slightest that you are naked.
Figure drawing is a centuries old tradition, and sexuality has largely been removed from the whole proceedings. They will approach drawing you with the same excitement and focus they brought to drawing a bowl of fruit last week. Most of the time it will feel like you might as well be wearing a burkah for all the reaction you will get.
Okay, it’s possible one or more of them will be secretly thinking for about thirty seconds "dear god, that person has no clothes on!" but then habit will take over, and they’ll only be seeing lines, angles, shadows and shapes that they want to put on the page. If individuals do secretly find you sexy, the chances are virtually nil that they will let you know. Schools and studios make it clear that this is crossing a line, and could result in them being banned. I know that sit-coms are fond of the scene where some hunky guy (it’s always a guy, because naked guys are funnier than naked women) disrobes to appreciative gasps and admiring glances, but in the real world that doesn’t happen. Okay, to be fair, it’s never happened to me. Or anyone I’ve ever talked to. Maybe you’d get such a response, but frankly, if you inspire this reaction, I doubt it will be telling you anything you didn’t already know.
This brings me to another tricky topic, the whole body image thang. Perhaps you’re hoping that posing for artists will help you address the poor self-image you’ve struggled with for years. Artists make art, after all, so in using your image to create a thing of beauty, they will see beauty in you that you couldn’t see on your own. See above re: they won’t care that you’re naked. They also won’t care about making you look good. They’re unlikely to care what you think at all. If you don’t like what the mirror is saying to you, you’re unlikely to have a different reaction to someone else’s view of you. If you’re having a day where the mirror tells you that you’re a hippo, say, a chinless hippo with spindly, hairy arms and an unfortunate patch of fur at the base of your spine, well, chances are that’s what you’re going to see in the drawings done that day as well. Even if an experienced artist does make you look beautiful, you’ll dismiss it as mere flattery, a series of little white lies the artist has put on the page that bares minimal resemblance to you. Nope, the chinless hippo will just seem more honest somehow. If you’re looking to this job to provide some sort of emotional healing, I implore you to think again. Having a fat day? Got a boil on your shoulder? Is your hair looking exceptionally stupid? Tough shit, strip and get on the model stand. Occasionally people will say "you must be really confident in your body, to do that." Nah, not so much. I just know they really, really don’t care what I look like.
What's more, while you’re up there, be prepared for the instructors to talk about your body in non-judgmental ways that may still manage to focus on your greatest insecurities. I once had an instructor point out a useful shadow under one of my love handles, and no insult was meant by it ("couldn’t you use some sort of Latin term for them, you know, like quadriceps or glutes or something?" I asked, but apparently Romans didn’t have love handles). That’s just what was there to see, and was useful to note in the drawing. If you’re likely to take such comments personally, this job isn’t for you.
I feel compelled to add that at this exact moment, I don't have love handles. See what I mean? This job has done nothing for my neuroses
Now, for the guys reading this, I have some special advice. First off, if you find modeling is something of a turn-on, make sure to keep it to yourself, if you catch my drift. Getting an erection is considered very bad form, and is likely to get you canned and black-listed pronto. If it’s any comfort, keep in mind that the studios are frequently freezing. I’ve only ever heard of one drawing group that aimed to create an erotic environment, and it should come as no surprise that it was for gay men. I’ve never heard of any lesbian or heterosexual erotic drawing groups, but maybe they exist. I have to say, if I were a woman, I would be very wary of a straight erotic drawing group. If I participated at all, I’d do so only after reading three or more reassuring testimonials from trusted sources.
Guys should also keep in mind that while the nude male might have been the epitome of beauty during 5th century Greece and the Renaissance, those days are long gone. Nowadays most people, regardless of age, gender or sexual orientation are simply more comfortable drawing the female form and would rather be in the room with a nude woman. I have seen some change over the years; it’s been a while since I’ve seen anyone draw me wearing little imaginary swimming trunks (usually, but not always, this was done by college-aged guys), but people are still pretty honest about the fact that they’d just rather look at naked women. If this is going to be a blow to your ego, you’ll want to reconsider this job.
I would also argue that people generally want male poses to be more vigorous and active. The reclining female form is a staple of figure painting, in part because the curves of women’s bodies make such poses beautiful and dynamic, while men’s bodies, lacking those curves, are harder to draw lying down, but I also think our culture just finds the reclining form very feminine. It suggests sexual receptivity, to be frank, and seeing a man that way makes most people very uncomfortable. I was asked once by the (gay male) leader of a painting group to do a four week reclining pose. After the first week, none of the other men in the group came back; for three weeks it was just me, the leader, and the two women in the group. Art modeling is not ‘just lying around’ for either men or women often, but if it happens at all, it’s less likely for the former.
Okay, this entry has already gotten really long, and despite my opening paragraph, I seem to be discouraging people from trying this job. I could explain how a class is typically run, what you should expect to do, how often you should expect breaks, and many other bits of advice to help you with your modeling career, but you know what? Let me tell you the best things you can do. I can say, in all humility, that I am a very popular model, with lots of instructors. I can claim that I bring a lot of skills, training, experience and insight to the job, but here are my secret weapons, the real reasons I think I work so much.
1.If I book a class, I show up for that class.
2.I show up on time.
3.I show up in a good mood, or able to fake it.
I cannot tell you how far ahead of the pack this puts me. Any weird job will draw a fair number of flakes, but art modeling seems to get them in droves. Seriously, showing up on time by itself has earned me reactions of such surprised delight, it almost didn’t matter what I did for the rest of the class. It's not unheard of for models to be over an hour late for a three hour class. One thing about working in a job with a high flake quota, they set the bar nice and low.
So that’s just some of my thoughts about this wacky job I find myself doing. If you’re still interested in giving the job a try, I hope I’ve given you a better sense of what to expect. Later we can discuss necessary equipment (obviously this job has a low overhead), classroom etiquette, and the importance of stretching, but I think this will give you a good start.